This is the fourth post in a weekly series covering each of Fast Forward’s nine tech nonprofits.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, hundreds of companies cater meals for their employees every day. Around the world, thousands of stadiums host enormous events where they feed tens of thousands of people each. Tech companies and baseball stadiums face the same problem: at the end of the day, they have hundreds or thousands of pounds of food thrown away, because it’s easier to throw away food than to give away food. A football stadium filled to the brim of food is wasted every single day in America. Feeding Forward hopes to help.
We sat down with founder Komal Ahmad and Director of Operations Maen Mahfoud to learn more about how Feeding Forward uses technology to connect those with excess food to those in need at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and religious organizations.
Redistributing food is one of the world’s “dumbest problems” but also one of it’s biggest. What is so challenging about getting food from the haves to the have-nots?
Komal: It’s a logistics issue. It’s getting food from places that have it to places that need it – it’s figuring out how much food the recipients can take, honoring specific food requests, and matching up deliveries with recipients’ capacity for cooking (when needed) and distributing food. Since food is perishable, we have to move it safely and quickly in real time.
By using technology we are able to streamline these connections and this distribution to facilitate ending food waste as quickly as possible.
What’s your vision of Feeding Forward in 10 years?
By the end of 2016 we’ll be Bay Area-wide, and that’s just the beginning. In 10 years, I want Feeding Forward to be a verb – so innate in people’s psyche that the idea of throwing away food is a moral outrage around the world.
What is the biggest challenge from a product standpoint?
Maen: The overall user experience. The product is not only a technology, but also a service. We have to make it flawless for donors, recipients, and drivers. We create technology, but at the end of it we are a service provider, and no matter how much technology is involved we can’t forget that at the end of the day, our job is to feed people in need.
Has it been challenging getting some of your recipient organizations that may be less familiar with technology to use your product?
That is precisely why we have to create a user experience that is as easy for them as possible. We’re constantly innovating in this area – for example, we are integrating NeoSpeech into our product so that these organizations can listen instead of reading their text messages, and respond verbally in real time.
What are the upsides and downsides of operating a nonprofit business model instead of a for-profit?
Komal: Food can only be donated to a nonprofit. For Feeding Forward, that’s just a IRS classification. We focus on figuring out how to create a company that is both scalable and sustainable.